Section 8 Snowsport Institute
A company at Mount Washington has been teaching ski and snowboard instructors how to teach for the past four years. This past summer, they took their show on the road to Austria for a week, and their program keeps growing.
Tobin Leopkey founded Section 8 Snowsport Institute four years ago after realizing the instructors he was teaching at another facility were one-dimensional: good instructors of the basics, but not well-rounded skiers themselves.
Leopkey grew up skiing the steep and deep tree lines at Mount Washington but has been found teaching and participating in outdoor pursuits in various corners of the globe. He earned his Level 1 ski instructor certification at Mount Washington in 1992 at 16 years old before moving to the Lower Mainland to pursue higher levels.
He has instructed in New Zealand, the Canadian Rockies, tried outdoor education in various parts of the globe. Finally unable to ward off the allure of Vancouver Island, Leopkey and his wife, Kana, moved back to the Comox Valley to start Section 8.
While Leopkey is Head Coach of the skiing component, he needed someone who could teach the snowboarders. That’s when Mike Bray entered the picture. Bray is the Technical Director for Snowboarding at Mount Washington’s Snow School as well as co-owner and director of Section 8. He is a Level IV instructor and Level III Examiner with the CASI too.
Section 8 offers two programs: a four-week basic level, and a 12-week snowsport leadership training program that will see students work towards certification such as Avalanche Safety Training 1, CSIA Level 1 and Level 2 instructors (CASI Level 1 and 2 for snowboarding), CSIA and CASI terrain park modules and wilderness first aid.
Leopkey and Bray also concentrate on all-mountain ski and snowboarding improvement, including winter survival skills out-trip, map and compass navigation, alpine race training, steeps and freeride skills and tactics, glacier travel and rope rescue. The group always takes a backcountry trip to Mt. Cain, a smaller ski hill also on Vancouver Island.
Programs start in January, when the snow pack is more reliable. Students spend five or six days a week working on an intensive syllabus. But, all work and no play can be grueling, so Leopkey and Bray have worked some fun into the program, like dodge ball, golf, surfing, bungy jumping and even a trip to Vancouver to watch a National Hockey League game.
Leopkey is happy with the way the program has progressed over the years, and says he’s always streamlining the logistics. He particularly likes teaching at Mount Washington. There is “reliable snow and massive amounts of it is great for marketing,” he said. “There’s great terrain and quieter runs throughout the week.”
In his first year of operation, Leopkey had two clients. The next, he jumped from two to 21. “It was a quick learning curve, that’s for sure,” he said.
The program has slowly grown, and this past summer Section 8 ran a program in Austria for a week. Leopkey would like to bring similar high performance clinics to other places like Chile or New Zealand in the summer, which is their winter.
He has also been approached by other mountain resorts about bringing his program to them, so he’s pondering opening another school elsewhere. But he’s not quite ready for that. Yet.